15th-Century Hebrew Bible Manuscript Among Highlights at Kestenbaum & Co.

Kestenbaum & Company’s Fall auction of Fine Judaica will take place on Thursday, November 13th at 3:00 pm at the company’s gallery in New York City. The extensive sale consisting of 429 lots of Printed Books, Manuscripts, Autograph Letters, Ceremonial Objects and Graphic Art will feature Selections from the Collection of the late Dr. Alfred Moldovan.

East Harlem physician and civil rights activist Alfred Moldovan founded the Medical Committee for Human Rights and was Martin Luther King Jr.’s personal physician. In addition to his medical career and political activities, Dr. Moldovan was a premier force in the field of Judaica as both a collector and scholar. Together with his wife Jean, he amassed a vast collection of important artifacts, which he generously made available to Jewish cultural institutions and other scholars for research and exhibit. In a specially prepared introduction to the auction catalogue, Dr. Moldovan’s son, Joseph Moldovan, relates that over time his parent’s collection which began in the late 1960s consisted of thousands of items. Seeing themselves as not only collectors but also as preservationists, the Moldovans relished the role each item they acquired played in the history and continuum of Jewish life. The Moldovan family sees it apt that the items so lovingly collected by their parents and now offered here for sale by Kestenbaum & Company will be acquired by a new generation of passionate Judaica collectors.

Among the numerous books to be offered in the sale, some of the many categories include American and Anglo Judaica, Early Printed Books, works relating to the German 18th century Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment) Movement, Passover Hagadot, Holocaust associated texts and works relating to Zionism and the Land of Israel. Bidders will also be able to choose from an unusually large selection of 18th through 20th century Illustrated Books featuring the artistry of nearly every great Jewish illustrator of his time. 

Historical Highlights:

  • Order of Service performed at the Dedication of Jews Hospital (later renamed Mt. Sinai Hospital), New York, 1855. Estimate: $5,000-7,000 (Lot 11)
  • First edition of Minhag Amerika (the first daily Reform prayer-book issued in America), Cincinnati, 1857. Estimate: $12,000-18,000 (Lot 14)
  • An exceptional rarity—Devora Ascarelli’s Maon HaShoalim, Venice, 1601—the very first publication of a Jewish woman’s writings. Estimate: $10,000-15,000 (Lot 49)
  • Passover Hagadot including: Amsterdam, 1695, estimate: $6,000-9,000 (Lot 94); Sulzbach, 1711, estimate: $1,000-1,500 (Lot 96); Venice, 1603, estimate: $2,000-4,000 (Lot 120) and Venice, 1629, estimate: $3,000-5,000 (Lot 121). Also extremely noteworthy is the first Hagadah printed in America, New York, 1837, estimate: $60,000-80,000 (Lot 108).
  • An original Swedish Protective Passport issued by the heroic diplomat Raoul Wallenberg in 1944, a priceless ticket of life for a Jew otherwise destined to a certain death in Nazi occupied Hungary. Estimate $7,000-10,000. (Lot 282)
  • Zionism: The first edition of Theodor Herzl’s Der Judenstaat, Leipzig & Vienna, 1896, estimate: $8,000-12,000 (Lot 238) and the first public announcement of the Balfour Declaration printed in the London Times newspaper, November 9, 1917, estimate: $1,000-1,500 (Lot 150).

Notable selections of Early Printed Books: 

  • Book of Job, Naples, 1487, estimate: $6,000-8,000 (Lot 53) 
  • Book of Psalms, Paris, 1544-46, a heavily annotated copy belonging to a 17th century Dutch scholar, estimate: $12,000-15,000 (Lot 54) 
  • David Abenatar Melo. Los CL. Psalmos de David, the excessively rare first Jewish translation into Spanish of the Book of Psalms, Hamburg, 1626, estimate: $25,000-30,000 (Lot 218)
  • Exceptionally scarce collection of four printed broadsides, being the first illustrated contemporary accounts of the appearance, rise and ultimate fall of the false messiah, Shabthai Tzvi, Augsburg, 1666. Estimate: $40,000-60,000 (Lot 219)

Most prominent in the Manuscripts section is an exceptionally important Hebrew Bible manuscript from Bukhara, second half of the 15th century, estimated at $60,000-80,000 (Lot 279); a Torah Scroll presented to Czar Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia by the Jewish Community of Penza, Russia, 1904, estimate $30,000-40,000 (Lot 322) and a magnificent illuminated manuscript on vellum produced to commemorate the appointment of the United Kingdom’s first High Commissioner to Palestine, Sir Herbert Samuel, London, 1920, estimate $30,000-40,000 (Lot 321). 

Further lots of note include a document issued and signed by King Leopold I authorizing the Commissioner General of the Holy Land to collect alms, Vienna, 1700, estimate $1,000-1,500 (Lot 287); Ilan, a beautifully composed Kabbalistic manuscript from Australia, 1928, estimate $3,000-5,000 (Lot 296) and a Samaritan Scroll of the Pentateuch, Nablus, 20th century, estimate $8,000-12,000 (Lot 309). 

Also on offer are autograph letters from prominent Rabbinic figures such as Rabbis Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, Yoseph Leib Bloch of Telz, Raphael Breurer, Shlomo Heiman, Baruch Ber Leibowitz of Kamenitz, Abraham Isaac Kook, The Rogatchover Gaon and Yechiel Ya’akov Weinberg. Also included are autograph letters from noted Jewish political leaders and historic figures such as David Ben-Gurion, Bernard Baruch, Alfred Dreyfus and Theodor Herzl. 

The Graphic Art section of the sale features an exciting collection of posters relating to Israel both immediately prior and following the creation of the State (1945-1950). Two particularly strong examples include the first proclamation issued by the Provisional Government calling on all residents of the new State of Israel to volunteer to protect the homeland, Tel Aviv, 1948, estimate $3,000-5,000 (Lot 337) and a Hebrew poster commemorating the State of Israel’s first Day of Independence, 1949, at an estimate of $1,200-1,800 (Lot 342).

Among the fine paintings offered, the standout is a masterful work by Lubavitcher artist Chenoch Hendel Lieberman, whose art most infrequently appears at public auction. Intense Prayer, the oil painting he produced in 1962 and on offer here, has become an iconic image within the pantheon of classic Chabad-related historical images. The pre-auction estimate is $50,000-60,000 (Lot 347). Further notable works include Solomon Alexander Hart’s Meditation on the Book of Ecclesiastes, oil on panel, 1864, estimate $6,000-9,000 (Lot 348) and an unusual piece composed in verre églomisé of the Passover Seder, Austrian, early 20th century, at an estimate of $15,000-18,000 (Lot 355). 

Highlights from the Ceremonial Objects section of the sale include two fine French silver Torah Shields, one from 1878, estimate $4,000-6,000 (Lot 387) and the other dated 1853, at an estimate of $6,000-8,000 (Lot 388). Also noteworthy is a wooden keepsake box featuring a miniature portrait of Elias Warburg by Johann Carl Frederik Viertel, 1804, estimate $5,000-7,000 (Lot 399) and a medal of Dona Gracia Menes Nasi, one of the wealthiest Jewish women of Renaissance Europe, Ferrara, 1558, at an estimate of $2,000-3,000 (Lot 420).

The auction exhibition will be held in the Kestenbaum & Company gallery at 242 West 30th Street in New York City from Sunday, November 9th through Wednesday, November 12th. For further information, to request images, or any other queries, please contact Jackie Insel at 212-366-1197 or Jackie@kestenbaum.net.

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